- enhancement and coordination of the Association’s EU lobbying in Helsinki together with the International Affairs Team
- coordination of the preparation of opinions to the EU
- coordinator for the Committee of the Regions
- support for the Brussels Office and operational development together with the Office’s director
EU Policy Priorities for 2022
At the Association of Finnish Local and Regional Authorities (AFLRA) the aim of our EU lobbying work is to secure and improve the conditions in which Finnish local authorities operate. To do that we influence the EU in a timely and proactive manner, also taking advantage of the opportunities for international cooperation that the EU membership offers.
The EU has major impacts on the workings of Finnish local authorities. An AFLRA report shows that the European Union influences about 60 per cent of the functions and decisions of local authorities.
We determine our EU lobbying priorities based on the needs of local authorities. In 2022, we will focus on the following five priorities:
- The EU programming period 2021–2027 — recovery and new growth
- EU urban policy — cities promote vitality and drive forward the economy
- A European Green Deal
- A Europe fit for the digital age
- The European Pillar of Social Rights Action Plan
The EU programming period 2021–2027 — recovery and new growth
Cities and municipalities both actively develop public services and infrastructure and provide platforms for innovation activities of companies and research institutes. The key EU funding programmes should therefore serve cities and municipalities in the best possible way.
From the local authority viewpoint, the programming period 2021–2027 should see the development of especially those EU funding instruments that promote municipal climate, energy and environmental measures, sustainable transport systems and accessibility, innovations and digitalisation, and support employment and skills development.
Our key objectives
- The structure and contents of the EU funding programmes should be designed to encourage cities and municipalities to participate in EU-funded development projects and give them the opportunity to take part in preparing the programmes affecting them.
- A flexible use and coordination of different financial instruments should be made possible in the new programming period. A reduction of administrative burden provides opportunities especially for local authorities with scarce resources for participating in the implementation of development projects.
- The EU’s recovery funding should be closely linked to new openings for local and regional economies and to measures that have a stimulative effect. Local and regional actors should be involved in decision-making concerning projects funded by the recovery funding.
- Local authorities should have the opportunity to strongly contribute towards the implementation of regional and structural policy objectives. As part of the recovery, the various programmes should be flexible about project activities and the share of local government funding, where necessary.
- Local and regional levels must be taken into account in particular in the financing of the green and digital transitions. Financial instruments other than those managed nationally should also take into account the development needs of cities and municipalities.
- The special features of rural areas should be considered in the financial instruments.
Influencing EU funding programmes related to urban policy is also among the EU lobbying measures listed in the AFLRA’s Urban Policy Action Plan.
EU urban policy — cities promote vitality and drive forward the economy
At the AFLRA we want to promote sustainable urban policy in the EU. The role of cities and urban regions as national drivers of the economy, vitality and climate action is closely linked to the emergence of innovations and economic renewal. Cities have a special role in promoting the green transition and circular economy, new kinds of clusters of excellence and innovation ecosystems.
Cities are nodes in many international value chains, a role that will be further emphasised as service exports increase. EU urban policy is also highlighted in the AFLRA's Urban Policy Action Plan and the measures contained within it.
Our key objectives
- The EU should introduce measures ensuring the capability of cities to invest in growth and sustainable development.
- The views of cities on promoting better regulation should be effectively considered in the EU's policy preparation and decision-making. To this end the EU should strengthen and further develop its urban policy measures related to the new Leipzig Charter, such as the Urban Agenda.
- Cities have a crucial role in delivering the EU's climate targets. The EU and national governments need to provide firm support for the cities participating in the urban mission (100 climate-neutral cities by 2030) to ensure the effectiveness of the mission and the climate actions.
- Other key EU funding programmes (e.g. Horizon, Digital Europe) besides the ones specifically directed at cities should also take into account the development needs of cities. European digital innovation hubs, test and experimental environments, and data and AI projects support the development and introduction of innovative digital solutions in cities.
A European Green Deal
The EU Green Deal is a broad cross-sectoral programme aimed at cutting emissions and promoting sustainable development and sustainable economic growth in Europe.
Among the numerous measures included in the programme, the Fit for 55 package is the most important set of climate legislation. With the package, the EU wants to ensure that it will achieve its target to reduce emissions by at least 55 per cent by 2030, as compared to 1990 levels. The aim of the Fit for 55 package is also to make the EU area carbon-neutral by 2050 and carbon negative thereafter. Many of the package's proposals have a direct impact on cities and municipalities, while others have indirect effects.
Our key objectives
- In the AFLRA’s opinion, the updating of EU legislation should support local authorities in reaching their own climate targets and help them to reduce emissions in areas such as mobility and the built environment in an ecologically, economically and socially sustainable way. However, the EU should leave the selection of specific means and the practical implementation to Member States, so that they can adopt solutions that are appropriate to their local circumstances.
- Today, many sectors carry out climate and energy work on a voluntary basis. Examples include the local government sector’s energy efficiency agreement and the climate plans of cities and municipalities. This development should be taken into account when considering instruments for steering climate and energy policy.
- The AFLRA recognises the importance of promoting energy efficiency and using it as a tool for reducing emissions. However, energy efficiency requirements must not hinder the achievement of emission reduction targets in an impactful and cost-effective manner that is also socially, economically and ecologically sustainable.
- The transition to sustainable and smart mobility should take account of the regional differences within the EU. The focus of developing the TEN-T transport network should be on the extension of the core network corridor. Rail projects should seek to maximise receipts from the EU by investing efforts into long-term and timely planning.
- The conservation of biodiversity and ensuring a toxic-free environment requires attention be given to local circumstances and the measures of local authorities be supported.
- Furthering the objectives of the European circular economy model requires product policy measures to complement emissions reduction efforts.
A Europe fit for the digital age
In the Commission’s 2022 work programme, the focus of digitalisation has shifted from the Covid-19 crisis management and planning to implementation: to making Europe greener, fairer and more digital and sustainable.
The EU's twin green and digital transitions also define operating prospects for local authorities. From the local authority viewpoint, the transitions should be balanced in a way that will maintain conditions conductive to sustainable living.
Our key objectives
- Concerning cyber security, the right conditions are necessary for the management and treatment of risks, for the continuity and recovery of operations and for data protection and information security, which ensure reliable data sharing.
- The EU’s role in increasing citizens' trust in public sector information resource should be taken into account. Both data sharing and a secondary use of data and operators' responsibilities should be considered. As regards the digital infrastructure, the question is how to promote the sustainability of digital society.
- The pandemic has proved that it is crucial for education providers, teachers and pupils to have digital knowledge and skills. Attracting talent to Finland is also vital. In addition to digital skills, attention should be paid to equal access to digital services for the entire population.
- The AFLRA follows discussions on artificial intelligence within the EU, for example concerning the definitions related to the Artificial Intelligence Act, the responsibilities of operators and ethical considerations surrounding the activities. Local authorities are interested in the possibility of using artificial intelligence in their different areas of activities, for example in the well-being information management.
The EU’s objectives for digitalisation should have the right level of ambition so that local authorities could further them in a rational and sustainable manner. No one should be left behind, but pioneers should not be punished, either. Local authorities need support for taking advantage of the changes and opportunities. An overview is needed of the regional progress of digitalisation — in terms of the infrastructure for example — in line with the goals of the Commission's Digital Compass.
The European Pillar of Social Rights Action Plan
The European Pillar of Social Rights consists of 20 principles that pave the way for a strong and fair Europe. Regional and local authorities play an important role in the practical implementation of the principles. The AFLRA therefore pays special attention to the European Pillar of Social Rights Action Plan as part of its lobbying of the EU.
We want to work together with the Finnish cities and municipalities in supporting the well-being of all municipal residents. In our view, local authorities play a crucial role in maintaining the balance between the three dimensions of sustainable development — the social, economic and environmental dimensions. Local authorities have a pivotal role in reducing health and well-being inequalities between population groups and in preventing social exclusion. The well-being of citizens is key to stability.
The AFLRA stresses that the European Pillar of Social Rights enables dissemination of information and best practices between regional and local governments on the one hand and between the Member States on the other. The aim of many of the objectives is to promote the European way of life, and we welcome the Commission's proposal to make 2022 the European Year of Youth.
Our key objectives
- Concerning climate action, the EU is making decisions on the extension of emissions trading. We are cautiously open to this in principle; however, the AFLRA is very critical of the proposal for a Social Climate Fund. The AFLRA proposes that part of the revenue from auctioning emissions allowances be directed to the funding of municipal climate work in the aforementioned themes. The Member States should be allowed to fully plan and provide compensation for various national and local impacts in accordance with the principle of subsidiarity.
- As regards to the economy and employment, the Commission proposes several measures seemingly on the grounds of the pandemic. One of them is the recommendation on minimum income. Any matters related to social assistance or other social security are governed by national legislation.
- In our view, the formulation of EU guidelines and recommendations should ensure that national governments — and in the case of Finland, local authorities — retain their decision-making powers relating to educational, cultural, sports and youth services. Local authorities play a key role in the organisation of education, in transitions into education and work for young people, and in the promotion of employment and strengthening well-being and inclusion. Increasingly active participation in the EU youth programmes is in the interests of Finnish young people, youth workers and cities and municipalities alike.
- The AFLRA emphasises that the EU and Finland should provide high-quality international protection for those who need it. Local authorities’ efforts to integrate migrants is an essential component of a successful immigration policy. Any kind of inclusion of immigrants in society contributes to social sustainability.
- As regards to work-related immigration, the AFLRA states that attracting skilled and talented workforce to our country promotes vitality, prevents brain drain and helps to bridge the skills gap. Public sector needs should be considered in labour recruitment from third countries by developing effective practices for the recruitment of healthcare and social welfare professionals.
The European Union is founded on shared values but in recent years its unity has been tested in many ways. Amidst many crises, we must work towards the unity of the EU to strengthen its future role both within and outside Europe. The results of the Conference on the Future of Europe are expected in spring 2022.